Review: The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) at the Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre 2012
by Gail Burns
For the Berkshire-Capital region’s most comprehensive listing of theatre offerings visit GailSez.org
Have I explained to you how amazing it is to see professional opera in a 1879 wooden opera house in tiny, rural Cambridge, NY.? Have I told you about how beautiful and peaceful the drive there is? How reasonable the ticket prices are? Every August I look forward to the Hubbard Hall Opera Theater (HHOT) production.
This year its The Magic Flute. Magic would be the operative word. I guarantee you, even if you have never seen an opera before or think you don’t like opera, you will love this. And if you are already an opera fan, you will be blown away.
Today opera is usually presented in enormous houses. The audience is often so far from the stage that opera glasses are required to actually see the faces of the singers on stage. At Hubbard Hall the house is small enough to provide a thrillingly close look at all the action, but big enough to handle an audience of about 150, a cast of twenty three, and a twenty piece orchestra. Top ticket price is $30. These figures should tell you two things: 1) There is not a bad seat in the house, and 2) You’d better book tickets NOW because seating is limited and there are only five performances.
The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, was first performed in Vienna, Austria in September of 1791. We call it an opera now, but Mozart and Schikaneder called it a Singspiele, which is really just the 18th century German word for musical comedy. It is now the eighth most performed opera in the world.
Definitely the Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark of its time, The Magic Flute draws its plot from popular contemporary legend, has a score by a musical superstar, and productions often feature dazzling special effects, including stage flight. HHOT has neither the budget nor the facilities for any of that spectacle, but relies on Mozart’s brilliant score, the initmate setting, the superb voices of the up-and-coming young singers it employs, and the skillful costumes by Sherry Racinella to dazzle and delight.
While we associate The Magic Flute with Mozart, it literally owes its existence to Schikaneder (1751-1812). A successful singer, composer, librettist, actor (he played all the major Shakespearean roles in translation), and impresario, Schikaneder commissioned his friend and Masonic Lodge brother, Mozart, to write a Singspiele for the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna where he was the director, a position he acquired when he reconciled with his estranged wife after her lover, with whom she had been operating the theatre for the past year, died. The theatre had produced the composer’s Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), which HHOT staged in June of this year, in April and May of 1789, before embarking on a highly successful series of fairy tale operas, including The Philosopher’s Stone (Der Stein der Weisen) to which Mozart contributed some music, and culminating in The Magic Flute which premiered less than two months before the composer’s death
I will not try to render the convoluted plot of The Magic Flute which combines its creators’ Masonic ideals with a mish-mash of fairy tales that were well known in 1791 and have left our collective unconscious in the centuries since. This production is sung in German, but the spoken dialogue is in English and there are supertitles so you will be easily able to follow the foolishness.
There is a handsome prince, Tamino (Brian Kuhl) and a beautiful princess, Pamina (Mary Thorne), daughter of the Queen of the Night (Brooke Schooley), in peril who he must rescue from the Temple of Sarastro (Charles Martin) The confusing part is that it looks like Sarastro and company are the bad guys in Act I but they turn out to be the good guys in Act II, and the Queen and her Ladies in Waiting (Susan Wheeler, Evelyn Rossow, and Amber Smoke), who looked so sympathetic and sexy in Act I, turn out to be the no-good-niks in Act II.
Of course the Prince has a comic side-kick, Papageno (Andrew Pardini), who is lazy and greedy and lusts for a “little wife,” who he is eventually granted in the form of Papagena (C. Paige Porter). Sarastro has an inexplicably evil toady named Monastatos (Alex Canovas), who threatens Pamina’s virtue on more than one occasion, but everyone else in his temple is the personification of human perfection, including the three young boys (Lexie Dolmetsch, Carolyn Shields, and Abigail Dunn) who lead Tamino and Papageno through the trials they must endure in order to win their lady loves and enter into the temple brotherhood.
While young and not (yet) stars, these are all top-notch singers, and the orchestra, under the baton of Kelly Crandell sounds wonderful too. Pardini is a delightful and rougish Papageno, while Kuhl is manfully earnest as Tamino. They are well mated with the wide-eyed Thorne and the frisky Porter’s skills. As you can see from the cast photo, Martin is imposingly tall, and the headdress Racinella has designed for him adds to his towering height. He reeks of strength and righteousness in all the bbest ways, while Canovas is appropriately unctuous.
Director Paul Houghtaling and scenic designer Karen Koziol have used the same house set-up as HHOT used for last year’s excellent production of Don Pasquale. Paul Houghtaling did the translation of the dialogue and Juan Ahumada and Alexina Jones did the translation of the supertitles. The orchestra is right below the proscenium stage, which sits very high at Hubbard Hall, encircled by a gradated ramp, which is painted in a beautiful mosaic pattern that morphs chromatically from red on house right to blue on house left. This represents the trials of fire, earth, water and air which Tamino and Pamina must endure at the end of Act II. The only other set pieces are two revolving colums on the stage, with one side a lovely mosaic and the other black with twinkling electric stars to represent Sarastro’s temple and the realm of the Queen of the Night.
This simple but beautiful setting comes alive with Mozart’s music and Racinella’s beautiful costumes to create an exciting and memorable visual feast. Papageno and Papageno are costumed, as is traditional, like birds with layers of multicolored “feathers.” The gowns for the Queen of the Night are really spectacular, as is Schooley’s soaring soprano in some of Mozart’s most challenging music for that voice.
I need to make it clear at this point that I saw the open dress rehearsal of this production, therefore I am not going to mention the one spot in the show where a little directorial sparkle would have been advisable. There is a day between that pay-what-you-will preview and the official opening night, and I know from experience that many props are created at the very last minute. By seeing the preview I had the opportunity to get this review written and posted before the first of the mere five performances, which gives Berkshire On Stage readers the best possible advantage to get to see this excellent production.
The Magic Flute will be performed at 8 pm on August 10, 11 & 13 and at 2 pm on August 18 & 19 at Hubbard Hall, 25 East Main Street in Cambridge, NY. The show runs two and a half hours including one intermission. Tickets: $20 students, $25 members, $30 general. A Viennese brunch will be offered at 11:30 am on August 19 at a cost of $35. Call for reservations: 518-677-2495 or visit www.hubbardhall.org
HHOT is expanding its season and will be bringing Guerilla Opera’s Heart of a Dog to Hubbard Hall next month, Puccini’s La Bohème to the Dorest Playhouse and the campus of the University at Albany in October, and Verdi’s La Traviata to the GE Theatre at Proctors in February. Visit their Web site at http://www.hubbardhall.org/opera for more information